A U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday will feature V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett and other prominent Virgin Islanders testifying on behalf of equal voting rights for territorial residents.
The virtual hearing of the House Administration on Elections Subcommittee will begin at 10 a.m., and can be viewed online at https://cha.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings.
Plaskett and Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico will testify in the first panel. A second panel will include Neil Weare, president and founder of Equally American, which advocates for equality and civil rights; Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands; Gerard Emanuel, a retired educator from the University of the Virgin Islands; and John Abramson Jr., former supervisor of the V.I. Elections System.
The hearing will consider voting rights and election administration issues affecting the territories, where nearly 4 million people have limited representation in Congress — just one delegate in the House who cannot vote with the full body — and no voting rights for U.S. presidential elections.
That disparity in representation becomes increasingly stark amid natural disasters or even the current COVID-19 pandemic, as Congress and federal administrations control the flow of federal dollars and resources.
Plaskett, who said she has long championed equal voting rights in the territories, said she hopes the hearing will be a step in the right direction and inform Congress on “how to overcome issues of interpretation of the Constitution,” which stem back to the early 1900s and are now largely antiquated.
“This is something that I’ve been really pushing for a number of years,” Plaskett said to The Daily News. “I’m grateful to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the House leadership for giving us this opportunity.”
Plaskett added that she has spoken with Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. about setting aside a small amount of funding to educate Virgin Islanders about the different forms of status and the “legal, the economic and practical implications of each possibility and options of status.”
“The Legislature should really have a binding referendum in three years — in three years, we reach our 175th year of emancipation from chattel slavery and more than 100 years as members of the American family, and we should have a binding referendum after educating the public about the different forms of status so that Virgin Islanders can determine what type of status they are interested in,” Plaskett said. “That status should really inform and govern what the delegate pushes for in Congress.”